Thursday, January 22, 2009

One of the things I do which I have a hard time explaining to others is that I like to wander. Living about an hour outside of Seoul by public transit, I like to go into Seoul on Mondays, which is a day off for me. Unlike everyone else I know, however, I go without a reason. I'll say something about wanting to check out this market or check out some landmark, but really I just want to walk around and see what happens in Seoul. Sometimes, a lot happens.

I was walking around Yongsan station (one of the coolest names in Korea: 'yong' means dragon', 'san' means hill or mountain), home to a massive electronics market, when all of a sudden, I walked right into a column of about 200 riot police marching at a slow jog. Two hours later, I saw them again, and this time they were all business. There were 200 standing on one sidewalk, another 200 on the other. They were on the median where there was a bus stop, they were coming around corners, and so on.

I had heard a lot about public protests in Korea and how they could get very violent, so I figured I should probably stay, at least for a while. I walked around for an hour, and things looked tense, but nothing was happening. Eventually, I got bored and left.

The next morning, the details came out. The police had surrounded a block of abandoned buildings that were due to be demolished and redeveloped into something newer and shinier. The tenants of those buildings, who would not be compensated for the loss of their homes and apartments, barricaded themselves into one of the buildings Monday morning. They had been there for 12 hours when I got there. Twelve hours later, one of them threw molotov cocktails at the police. One of the molotov cocktails ignited paint thinner on the roof of the building. Six people died in the ensuing fire.

Here are a couple of pictures from The Han Kyoreh. I was too scared of getting arrested to take pictures. Protests in Korea aren't exactly the same as back home.

Police used a crane to lower a shipping container with commandos on top of the building.

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